Reeling from the #MeToo movement, Hollywood has put toxic masculinity under the spotlight this year with a batch of Oscars contenders zeroing in on the father-son dynamic.
From Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” to Brad Pitt’s “Ad Astra,” A-listers have flocked to roles that highlight the damage caused by sons’ quests for their fathers’ approval.
But none have confronted the theme more brutally and personally than “Waves,” the indie coming-of-age teen drama being tipped as an Oscars dark horse.
The film, portraying a black middle-class family in Miami which implodes following a tragedy, has been hailed as “a knockout” by the New York Times and an “intimate epic” by The Hollywood Reporter.
Director Trey Edward Shults modeled the film’s strict patriarch on his stepfather, whose overzealous coaching results in a hideous high-school wrestling injury – a trauma that is dramatized in the movie and leads to devastating consequences.
“It is a cautionary tale of the traditional idea of masculinity,” Shults, 31, told. “We don’t have to build these tough exteriors – we can be vulnerable, we can communicate.”
Described as a “Dazed and Confused” for the Instagram generation, the film shows how the expectation that teenage boys be strong, silent and stoic endures in American culture.
It was released this month by A24, the indie production house behind Oscar-winner “Moonlight,” with which “Waves” shares its setting and several themes.
Shults said he forged the central character after swapping stories with star Kelvin Harrison, whose musician father tried and failed to push him to follow in his footsteps.
“We would do these sort of intense therapy sessions… him talking about his father’s state of mind, his father’s father, where that stuff came from.”
The consequences of that pressure led, midway through the film, to what Shults calls “the ultimate tragedy.